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Art Market Watch
Feb. 15, 2006 

The big Valentine's Day news in the New York art world was the Metropolitan Museum sale of a trove of duplicate early-20th-century photos the museum had acquired from the Gilman Paper Company Collection at Sotheby's New York on the evening of Feb. 14, 2006 (the sale continued on the morning of Feb. 15). One person's duplicates are another's priceless treasures -- the sale total was $11,472,000, with all 113 lots finding buyers.

Top price was brought by Edward Steichen's exceptionally romantic (considering the circumstances) The Pond -- Moonlight (1904), a restive image of moonlight mirrored in the still water's surface. Estimated at $700,000-$1,000,000, it fell just shy of tripling its pre-sale high estimate, selling for $2,928,000 to Peter MacGill of Pace-MacGill Gallery, reportedly representing a client. The price is a new record for a photo at auction, supplanting the previous record price of $1,240,000 paid for a Richard Prince appropriation of a Marlboro cowboy -- a relief to those who feel that photography's classics should lead the photo pack.  

In a notable instance of star-power double-whammy, the second- and third-highest prices were both paid for Alfred Steiglitz photographs of Georgia O'Keeffe. Hands (1919), featuring O'Keeffe's slim but clawlike hands posed against a field of black, went for $1,472,000 (est. $300,000-$500,000), while the explicit if shadowy Nude torso drew $1,360,000 (est. $300,000-$500,000). The same unnamed West Coast dealer purchased both.

Other artists' records set at the sale included $228,000 (est. $30,000-$50,000), paid for Margrethe Mather's Pierrot (1920), a moody platinum-print image of a clown; $374,400 (est. $100,000-$150,000) for Paul Outerbridge Jr.'s sleek machine-age emblem, Marmon Crankshaft (1923); and $352,000 (est. $100,000-$150,000) for Margaret Bourke-White's famous snap of a jutting Gargoyle, Chrysler Building, New York (1929-30).

Earlier on Feb. 14, Christie's New York offered a mixed-owner sale of photographs that realized a total of $1,959,840, with 238 of 277 lots sold, or 86 percent. Christie's had cleverly billed the auction as an "entryway" for the beginning collector (in contrast to Sotheby's Met Collection blow-out), touting prices that started as low as $1,500.

Two lots tied for the top price. Irving Penn's Vogue Beauty Head with Eyes Closed (Front View), New York, a black-and-white image of a model's pouting face crisscrossed by brushy smudges of make-up (that was taken in 1984, printed in 1991 in an edition of six, and mounted on aluminum), carried a reasonable $10,000-$15,000 presale estimate but ultimately sold for $66,000. (In all the sale included 10 Penn photos of celebrities, models and travel subjects.)

The other top lot was another version of the auction-market chestnut, Ansel Adams' classic Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941, which though it was printed in 1971 nevertheless topped its presale high estimate of $50,000 by a handy $16,000. So much for the starting collector.

Other notable lots that sold at the top or above their high estimates at the Christie's sale were Peter Beard's ca. 1990 Portraits, London/Paris/Nairobi, Collected at Hog Ranch, 1960s-1970s, a photo collage "with ink and blood handwork" that went for $48,000 (est. $30,000-$50,000), and Helmut Newton's 1989 Study on Voyeurism II, Los Angeles, a black-and-white image of a topless woman with a hairy man's arm reaching at her from behind the lens, which sold for $31,200 (est. $10,000-$15,000).

Earlier in the month, the February sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art at Christie's London, Feb. 6-9, 2006, notched a grand total of £128 million (ca. $206 million), a sum that the auction house says "extends its international market leadership" and allows it to "dominate the post-war and contemporary market." In the newly global market, bidders from 55 different countries pushed 39 works to sell for more than $1 million. Twenty-eight new auction records were set.

Christie's London Impressionist and modern art evening sale totaled £61,645,200 ($108,186,970), with 75 of an incredible 101 lots finding buyers (a more normal sale has approximately 60 lots). Adding in the day sale and the works on paper, Christie's total Impressionist and modern take was £81,408,520. Some highlights:

* Chaïm Soutine's painting of a bloody side of beef hoisted on chains, Le boeuf écorché (ca. 1924), sold for £7,848,000 ($13,773,240), a new auction record for the artist.

* Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's double-sided canvas, Frauenbildnis in weissem Kleid (Woman in a white dress, 1908, with Adam und Eva, 1911, on the obverse), sold for £4.9 million ($7.3 million), a record for the artist. According to veteran art-market reporter Will Bennett in the Telegraph, the lot was snagged by the New York-based art consultants Christopher Eykyn and Nicholas Maclean -- formerly experts at Christie's, now on their own -- bidding for a European private collector.

* New auction records were set for an Egon Schiele drawing (£4,152,0000) as well as for works by Heinrich Campendonk (£1,688,000), Natalia Goncharova (£1,184,000), André Masson (£1,016,000), Felix Vallotton (£1,184,000), Georg Kolbe (£736,000) and Oscar Domínguez (£344,000).

As for its post-war and contemporary sales, Christie's announced a total of £47,810,660, with 302 of 324 lots selling, or 93 percent. The Feb. 8 evening sale of post-war and contemporary art totaled £37,038,000 ($64,557,234).

* Top lot was Francis Bacon's small (14 x 11 in.) Self-portrait (1969), which was hotly sought after by many bidders, and finally sold for £5,160,000 ($8,973,913), more than three times its presale estimate. The work was from the estate of Valerie Beston, the Marlborough Gallery employee who was a longtime friend and assistant to many London School artists; the proceeds go to her family. A second Bacon, Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velazquez (1959), also sold for £5,160,000.

* Lucian Freud's Man in a String Chair (1988-89), a portrait of his friend, the gambling magnate Victor Chandler, sold to a telephone bidder for £4,152,000 ($7,235,936), equaling the artist's auction record.

* The sale set new auction records for works by Michael Andrews (£176,000 ), Frank Auerbach (£433,600 ), Georg Baselitz (£1,240,000), Eduardo Chillida (£1,240,000), Franz Ackermann (£299,200), Michael Borremans (£131,200) and Matthias Weischer (£220,800). 

Sotheby's London series of Impressionist, modern and contemporary sales, Feb. 7-10, 2006, totaled £130.8 million ($228.8 million), billed as the highest total ever. Forty-nine works sold for over $1 million, with 18 new records set. The house noted strong activity from bidders in Russia, the Middle East, Asia and Europe.

Sotheby's "leads the field" in Impressionist and modern, with a total of £89 million ($155.9 million) for its evening, day and Olympia sales. Some highlights:

* Paul Gauguin's Deux femmes (1902), was top lot, selling for £12,328,000 ($21,574,000). According to insiders, the work was being sold by Anne Marion, wife of former Sotheby's auctioneer John Marion, who had unsuccessfully had the work for sale at Acquavella Gallery in New York.

* Edvard Munch's Summer Day (1903-04) sold for £6,168,000 ($10,794,000), a record for the artist at auction.

* New auction records were set for Max Liebermann (£2,146,000), Emil Nolde (£1,912,000) and Ludwig Meidner (£1,800,000).

For its contemporary sales, Sotheby's saw similar success with London School works. The evening sale of contemporary art on Feb. 9 totaled £30,368,800 ($52,987,482), with 60 of the 62 lots finding buyers, almost 97 percent, the highest total in London for the house. Fifteen works sold for more than $1 million.

* Top lot was Lucian Freud's Bruce Bernard (Seated) (1996), which sold for £3,536,000 ($6,169,613). Christopher Eykyn and Nicholas Maclean were again the buyers. 

* New records were set for Anthony Caro (£1,408,000), Rachel Whiteread (£288,000), Antony Gormley (£187,200), Richard Hamilton (£500,800), Bridget Riley (£467,200) and Keith Tyson (£60,000).

For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auctions Report.

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